Perplexed

Picture the scene; it’s 9.45pm on Tuesday 28 September and the game between Rotherham United and Bradford City concludes. The 600 or so City supporters rise to their feet and applaud the Bradford City players despite their team failing to score in yet another league game.

The reality is that Rotherham United are still unbeaten at home in the league this season whilst Bradford City are still to win an away league game this season. So why the applause from the City faithful? Well, going into the game, it was quite possible that our team could be propping up the football league.

However, a determined team performance ensures that City gain a precious point and climb one place to 21st in Division 4. It doesn’t sound glamorous but the City supporters appreciated the effort shown by all of the players who played at the Don Valley Stadium. To me, this shows that at whatever level of football, if the players show effort and commitment, then most supporters will appreciate their efforts.

It was interesting to see that Shane Duff, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were three of the City players who walked towards the City faithful at Don Valley after the game to return the applause to the supporters. For me, these three City defenders put in solid performances. O’Brien is enjoying one of his best runs in the first team whilst Duff and Williams are forming a strong partnership at the heart of City’s defence.

Williams was my man of the match and I believe that he has the potential to be as good as Dean Richards. At one point, Williams was beaten in the tackle but did he give up? No – he won the football back and dribbled it out of defence before playing an intelligent but simple pass to a colleague.

So, why am I typing further notes from the away game at Rotherham United when Jason has already produced yet another quality match report? Well, because today I read that our club has signed two Manchester United reserve players on loan for a month. I am perplexed.

The back five last night played well and it’s no coincidence that this good defensive performance occurred with the absence of Hunt, Oliver and Threlfall. (I know, Oliver played up front again and I’ll come to that matter in a bit.) I am all in favour of Peter Taylor remaining as our manager for many seasons to come. But with our poor start to the season I can understand why supporters are muttering that Taylor doesn’t know what he is doing. And I have to agree with that to a degree.

It will be interesting to see who starts at the weekend in the vital game against Morecambe. For me, if Taylor doesn’t start with the same five players who played in defence against Rotherham United, there will be plenty of already frustrated people whispering negative comments inside Valley Parade on Saturday afternoon. I simply do not understand why Brown and Gill have joined us for one month. Surely, if we are going to sign a couple of loan players, we need some forward players who can score goals.

Four goals in our first nine league games does not read well for us City supporters. We all know that Hanson is injured and Evans is lacking in confidence although his second half performance at Don Valley showed some signs of improvement. Speight, for me, despite not scoring yet for us, has been our best striker so far this season.

I’ve read comments both in support and against playing Luke Oliver up front. For me, I do not like playing players out of position and this includes starting with tall defenders playing up front. Maybe if you are chasing the game with 10 minutes to go, take a chance and throw a tall player up front. But, we shouldn’t be starting with Oliver up front. Unfortunately, Oliver is a Taylor signing and I fear that he will continue to start up front until Hanson fit again. And then, when Hanson is fit, do not be surprised if we see Oliver starting in the heart of our defence with one of the two Manchester United loan signings.

I am supportive of both the Bradford City management and players. However, if the Manchester United loan signings start against Morecambe and Oliver starts up front, I will not be happy. However, I will not be booing the players but I will be questioning Taylor’s judgement.

Brown and Gill sign on loan

Manchester United defensive pair Reece Brown and Oliver Gill have signed for Bradford City on loan for a month as Peter Taylor looks to refresh his squad with the City manager saying “They are both outstanding young players, who Manchester United rate very highly. We are delighted to have them on board”.

Brown is 18, Gill 20 and both enjoy high reputations in the ranks at Old Trafford – which Man Utd junior does not? – as well as connections within that club.

Reece Brown is the brother of sometime England international Wes who has been hoping that entropy might take Gary Neville for most of his career and at twelve years his siblings junior the age gap between the two is akin to that of the Boulding brothers.

Oliver Gill is the son of Old Trafford Chief Executive and Glazier middle man David and while this was considered a nepotistic boon earlier in his career his more recent appearances on the bench have heard his name booed by supporters looking to vent spleens at his Father and the Americans he represents.

Sir Alex Ferguson called Gill into a Champions League squad last season paying tribute to the player’s development and discussing the paternal issues around the player.

Brown, like his brother, is a central defender who can and probably will play right back while Gill is a central defender. Brown is likely to come in to cover for Simon Ramsden while Gill will most likely displace Steve Williams in the side, a fact that pleases this writer not.

The end of the beginning, or still something much worse?

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Zesh Rehman, Shane Duff, Steve Williams, Luke O'Brien | Lee Bullock, Tom Doherty, Tom Adeyemi | Gareth Evans, Omar Daley, Luke Oliver | Jake Speight, Lee Hendrie

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. The bubble of optimism that was growing after the Gillingham win had been painfully burst at Northampton three days ago. And a trip to a third-placed Rotherham side who had scored 12 goals in their previous four home games suggested only one outcome – a heavy defeat. Yet Bradford City put in a performance far beyond expectations to earn a draw that could easily have been more.

For the second Bantams visit to the Don Valley Stadium in a row, home keeper Andy Warrington was named the sponsors’ man of the match. This said much about the quality of the visitors’ display. It was no backs to the wall defensive job, with Warrington making stunning saves to deny Omar Daley, Tom Adeyemi (twice) and Steve Williams from snatching a priceless winner. City were comfortably the better side, and despite having to settle for a point will have returned back up the M1 with renewed confidence.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. Following the Northampton defeat, word reached BfB that an unhappy City Board had told Peter Taylor anything less than four points from the next two games will see him sacked. Another source claimed the manager has been given a month to turn it around. Whether either rumour is true, the fear is that this situation can’t go on much longer without someone deciding on drastic action.

This could have been Taylor’s last game in charge, but if any of the Board were at the Don Valley tonight they would surely have taken great heart from the way the team performed which should carry beyond whatever happens on Saturday. City began on the front foot, with the returning Daley causing problems down the left flank and the midfield trio of Lee Bullock, Tommy Doherty and Adeyemi quickly getting on top.

Daley was one of the chief scapegoats for the Southend debacle almost exactly a month ago; and although he has been away with Jamaica for a short period, he has found himself shunned from any first team action. Yet if City are going to climb up the table they must surely utilise their better-quality players. And whatever is said about Daley, when on form he is just that.

As ever, tonight we saw a mixed bag from Omar and his decision making was familiarly poor at times. But he provided a spark that helped the team claim greater territorial advantage than we’ve managed on the road all season, and the first half ended with his fizzing shot from an angle forcing the best out of Warrington.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. If Taylor was dismissed, where exactly would that leave the rest of the season? Sure we might bring in someone who can turn our under-achievers into world-beaters and climb the league, but City’s recent history shows such hopes are highly fanciful and never realised. Too often the answer to the problems has apparently lied in appointing another new manager, yet still the club’s decline continues.

More likely there would be a short-term boost from a new man, but in the longer-run the problems currently afflicting Taylor would remain. And as well as the cost of sacking a manager, there’d be a need to fund his replacement’s demands in the transfer market. All in all it’s a risk that could see the season written off with over three quarters of it to go. Is that really the best route to take?

But until tonight at least, there’s been a conflict of emotions inside pretty much every City supporter. Sure it’s a daft idea to sack a manager after 10 games…but what has Taylor done this season to deserve our support? There’s been very little for us to be impressed by regarding his performance since the season kicked off, and we’ve probably all scratched our heads wondering why the great things he was doing towards the end of last season suddenly aren’t coming off.

Tonight though Taylor got it right. Aside from a 20-minute spell before half time, Rotherham were completely neutralised by the 4-3-3 formation and strong levels of effort running throughout the team. At the back Steve Williams and Shane Duff were simply outstanding – the former so able in winning the ball from a forward’s feet, the latter never missing anything in the air.

On either side of them, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien were contributing at both ends of the pitch. O’Brien in particular having a storming game which included recovering from a slightly rocky five-minute period where he’d made one mistake. What a talent Luke has become.

A perfect display? Not by a long shot. In the final third City continue to struggle to find the fluency levels that Taylor’s side were able to regularly achieve last season. Luke Oliver again gave his all as an emergency striker and had more joy winning flick ons in the second half, but the sooner James Hanson returns or a target man is signed on loan the better City’s ‘goals for’ column will look. Gareth Evans still appears short of confidence and high on indecision, but we should not forget what a good player he can be if he can recapture his form.

Early in the second half, City really got on top and were seemingly camped out in the Rotherham half. Warrington made his collection of breathtaking saves and other efforts were blocked or flew narrowly over. Several corners were won and the backing from the 605 Bantams fans was impressive.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. On the message boards so many fans were saying they weren’t going to attend and, as me and my friend supped pints in a sparsely-populated empty away fans bar inside the ground with less than half an hour to kick off, it seemed as though we’d be short of company outside in the stand. Yet there was a good following in the end, and the noise levels were impressive too.

Midway through the first half a chant of Peter Taylor’s Bradford Army thundered across the empty Don Valley bowl. When Daley was subbed, which appeared unfair on the winger, there were no boos like in previous games. At Northampton there’d been reports of ‘Taylor out’ chants, but tonight not one word of dissent was aired his way – at least within my ear shot.

It was easy to fear the worst tonight. That it’d be a heavy defeat; that would then cause another managerial change, that would then split supporters, that would then end the season prematurely, that would then lead to falling attendances, that would then lead to the club’s downward spiral continuing, that would then lead to oblivion.

Even by recent standards it’s been such a dark time for every Bradford City supporter, and we’ve had little cause to believe we should expect to feel anything but miserable.

But the worst didn’t happen. And although a home defeat to Morecambe on Saturday might bring about all that we fear, perhaps we should begin to believe the corner is being slowly turned. It’s now one defeat from four, and the Northampton debacle aside there has been a steady improvement to performances. The poor start has been a colossal under-achievement, but that huge capacity to do much better means it’s not yet time to give up – on the players, on Taylor, on that promotion dream.

The season is still only at the beginning, but now we’re praying for that beginning to end.

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